A Public Health Crisis Not Getting Enough Attention

“They built hospitals in a day when they needed to … I don’t see why they can’t muster up a detox centre.”

So far in 2023 three times more people in BC have died from toxic drugs than COVID

When someone dies before their time, we all mourn what could have been.

The tragedy is that we can never go back and change the past. All we can do is try and move forward.

When it’s a death that could have been prevented, the most important thing to help give meaning to horrible circumstances is often for people to try and stop the same tragedy from befalling someone else.

This is undoubtedly what Campbell River mother, Chantal Costas, has done her best to do since her son’s sudden passing of a drug overdose.

“Santos was a bright kid. He had a future…he could have been many things,” she told the Campbell River Mirror.

“So many things could have been done to not have this happen, you know, and it’s done now. I can’t do anything about it but try and make change. So that’s my goal.”

Chantal’s son Santos died in police custody after he missed an opportunity to fill an open spot in a Lower Mainland treatment centre. Santos had been in and out of mental health and supportive living facilities during the last year of his life, but neither was equipped to deal with addiction issues. 

Chantal has been deeply frustrated by the lack of action to prevent more deaths attributed to the toxic drug crisis.

The casualties of the toxic drug crisis are of a massive scale, on a scale similar to a recent public health crisis we’re all too familiar with.

When COVID first entered the scene in 2020, and ever since then, drastic measures have been taken to keep the population safe and save lives.

“It was great. They were able to, you know – boom! – do whatever they needed to do to take care of people…They built hospitals in a day when they needed to,” Chantelle said.

We all came together and did what we needed to care for people. But it’s what anyone would do to keep people alive, right?

Well, what if we told you that just as many, if not more, people are dying from toxic drug use in BC as died of COVID?

In 2022, there were  2,272 drug toxicity deaths in BC. Over the same period, 2,383 people died of Covid.

In 2021, 2,306 people died from drug toxicity; only 1,522 died of Covid.

According to the BC Coroners Service, nearly 600 people died of toxic drugs in the first three months of 2023.

BC Center for Disease Control reports only 152 death over the same period have confirmed COVID as their underlying cause, with another 62 deaths yet to be determined if COVID was the primary underlying factor.

Both health crises are extremely severe but are not getting equal attention or funding from our governments. 

They’ve both resulted in thousands of deaths. People may not be aware that the toxic drug crisis was declared a public health emergency four years earlier than COVID.

But, the toxic drug crisis continues to be treated very differently than COVID.

“These people seem to be left out of that sort of urge to help,” said Chantal.

“This is not going to disappear until the powers that be recognize this situation as an emergency as we did COVID, for example. These lives are worthy. If the police, mental health, and the liaison ground workers can’t work together, then more unnecessary tragic deaths will continue to happen.”

Chantal is concerned that the addiction crisis has been going on for seven years, and there is still no concrete plan or approach to deal with it.

Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe calls it a “crisis of unimaginable scale.”

This needs to change.